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Florida’s “Terrifying” Anti-Immigration Crackdown Sets Stage for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Presidential Run

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A sweeping anti-immigrant crackdown is underway in Florida by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to enter the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination this week. SB 1718 is set to take effect July 1, but has already led to walkouts by immigrant workers. It bans people who are undocumented from using driver’s licenses issued in other states, and prohibits state ID cards to be issued to them. It also requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask about citizenship during intake, and expands requirements for employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of their workers. “SB 1718 has been the harshest immigration bill that we have seen,” says Florida immigration attorney Andrea Reyes. We also speak with historian Geraldo Cadava, who says DeSantis’s policies may not “translate nationally,” given Florida’s unique demographics and gerrymandered political system. Reyes is featured in a new piece for The New Yorker by Cadava, “Florida’s Right Turn on Immigration.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we look at the sweeping anti-immigrant crackdown in Florida led by the Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, expected this week to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race.

The American Civil Liberties Union Monday filed a lawsuit against Florida over a new property law signed by DeSantis that restricts immigrants from buying homes in the state if they’re born in China, and also targets those from Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea. The ACLU says the new law, quote, “harkens back to the anti-Asian land laws of the past century … Those laws violated the fundamental right to equal protection — just like Florida’s does.”

The legislation takes effect July 1st along with another anti-immigrant law that LULAC — that’s the League of United Latin American Citizens — has called “hostile and dangerous,” and prompted it to issue a travel advisory for the state along with the NAACP. The law bans people who are undocumented from using driver’s licenses issued in other states, and prohibits state ID cards to be issued to them. It requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask about people’s citizenship status during intake, which could stop undocumented community members from seeking medical care. It also expands requirements for employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of their workers. Immigrant farmworkers and others have walked off the job in protest of the new law.

DON PEDRO: [translated] It is very sad and unfortunate. They called us today because the painters and the people who do the cement all went to work in another state.

AMY GOODMAN: In other videos on social media, truck drivers are calling for boycotts of Florida over its new anti-immigrant law.

ZEEK: I don’t know about you guys, but my truck will not be going to Florida at all. If we all came together as one community for Rogel Aguilera when he was facing injustice, I’m pretty sure we can all come together as the Latino community and boycott Florida as a whole, because what they’re doing to our brothers and sisters out there is not fair.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Florida, Andrea Reyes is an immigration attorney based in Jacksonville. She’s featured in the new piece by Geraldo Cadava for The New Yorker magazine headlined “Florida’s Right Turn on Immigration.” Cadava is a professor of history and Latino studies at Northwestern University, author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Andrea Reyes, I want to begin with you in Jacksonville. And thank you both so much for joining us. If you can talk about exactly what this new law lays out, including someone can be arrested for driving an undocumented migrant across state lines?

ANDREA REYES: Yes. Thank you for having me.

So, SB 1718 has been the harshest immigration bill that we have seen, harsher than the series of immigration bills that we saw back in 2010, 2011, with the Arizona bill under Jan Brewer. But what it originally was designed to do was actually a lot more draconian than what the final bill ended up being. And that’s what’s created a lot of fear and havoc in our immigrant communities on a state and local level. Originally, the bill was supposed to criminalize anybody that was helping, basically, transporting, harboring, housing an undocumented immigrant in their home. They could be subject to up to a 15-year penalty. The final bill provision actually states specifically that a person who drives into the state of Florida an undocumented immigrant — and really, there’s a very specific word, and it’s an immigrant who entered without inspection. So, the state bill itself uses the word “inspection,” and in federal law, under the INA, there is a very specific definition for “inspection” that does not match the state definition of “inspection” in the bill. So there’s a lot of controversy, and we expect to see a lot of controversy with that specific provision because it is very vague and overbroad.

As you stated in your introduction, the bill also does require hospitals to provide — hospitals who receive Medicaid to report quarterly reports to the Governor’s Office and to the Legislature about the immigrants that are receiving assistance in their hospitals. However, what’s very tricky about that bill is that there’s actually — there’s a provision, and it’s specifically written into the bill, that allows for the hospitals to select “decline to answer.” So, immigrants are actually allowed — you know, they’re going to be able to decline to answer that citizenship question. But, of course — right? — you’re telling immigrants, who naturally don’t seek a lot of medical attention as it is, because they don’t want to accumulate the bills, they don’t want the attention, they don’t want people asking questions about their immigration status, now they’re going to ask those questions despite the fact that they have an opportunity to decline to answer. So, inherently, there’s going to be a lot of fear in that, as well.

Another big provision of the bill is that, as you know, there are about 19 states and the District of Columbia that provide licenses to undocumented immigrants. And so, there’s a lot of immigrants currently in the state of Florida that have lived in other locations or have families in different states, and they’ve been able to obtain licenses from other states. This bill is now going to make it so that if an immigrant is stopped and they have a driver’s license from another state, the police officer can exercise their authority as if the person was driving without a license, which means they can ticket them and/or they can arrest them.

So, I mean, those are like the big three things. As well, you know, there is the section for noncitizens who potentially have their bar license right now, are not going to be able to continue having their license, I believe starting November 1st, 2028. So, we have a lot of DACA recipients, as we know, who don’t — it’s not a permanent legal solution to their status, but it does provide some stability through work permits and Social Security for them to be able to stabilize their lives. But so, a lot of these individuals who are not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents will no longer be able to hold licenses. It also creates a provision for law enforcement to have to mandatory cooperate with ICE on any — you know, any programs where an undocumented immigrant might be processed.

So, there’s a lot of things in this provision, and — in this bill, and what makes it really terrifying is the amount of provisions that it had. A lot of the previous bills that we’ve seen have focused on like, you know, two, three, four items. This, you know, had, I think, over 12 provisions that directly affect immigration.

AMY GOODMAN: Geraldo Cadava, you have written a book on The Hispanic Republican. Clearly, you have Ron DeSantis preparing to run for president, and he feels this will help him, whether we’re talking about the abortion ban he just signed or when he says, “This is where woke goes to die,” Florida, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And now you have this immigration law that’s going into effect. It seems to be pillars of his platform. Can you talk about why he feels, with a large Latino population in Florida, this will help him win a national audience? Talk about the makeup of Florida and also Latino Republicans.

GERALDO CADAVA: Yeah, that’s a great question, Amy. And I just want to say thank you for having me on. I also want to say, quickly, Andrea, it’s nice to meet you here. I mean, we spoke while I was writing the piece, but we had never met. And so, I just want to say that you’re the one doing the work on the ground, and I’m just reporting on it, so it’s nice to see you here, and thank you for the work you’re doing.

So, I definitely think that this bill is related to Ron DeSantis’s presidential ambitions. I mean, I think he probably correctly perceives that the national mood, especially within his own party, is against making it easier for immigrants and asylum seekers to settle in the United States. And so he thinks that if he can show that to be true, to be — that he’s doing something to be effective on immigration in his own state, he might also become a good national leader on this issue, as well.

But I think it could be a miscalculation. I mean, Florida is in some ways unique. He has, through gerrymandering and voting restrictions, engineered this situation in Florida where he has 28 Republican senators and only 12 Democrats, and so he can push through almost anything he wants to push through. But I’m not sure that what he’s trying to do in Florida will translate nationally and, in fact, gain him wide acceptance on a national level.

I think Florida’s Latino communities are somewhat different than other Latino communities. I mean, historically, they’ve thrown their support to the Republican Party for a long time, for decades. And in November of 2022, 58% of Latinos voted for Ron DeSantis even despite the airlifts to Martha’s Vineyard and other places. So I think that in Florida you have a much more conservative Latino population. I think what’s interesting there lately is that it’s not just Cuban Americans and Venezuelans who are shifting their support to Republicans, but also Puerto Ricans and Colombians and others.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting you bring up the Martha’s Vineyard trip, taking undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, putting them in a plane, flying them to Martha’s Vineyard. Andrea Reyes, I mean, they’re talking about arresting people for driving with people who are undocumented. He flew them.

ANDREA REYES: Yeah, I mean, it’s hypocritical, right? We’re saying that we can’t have people come into the state, but we’re going to take people out of other states to other jurisdictions. It’s an overreach of his power as a state entity. And we know — again, we believe that because of the overreach that he is doing through immigration — he’s trying to enact immigration laws through state law. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that immigration — the federal government has plenary power over immigration, and so only when the federal powers give any authority to the states can they actually implement anything related to immigration. So, the fact that he’s trying to create immigration enforcement through state policy is going to become a constitutional issue, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re an immigration lawyer, Andrea Reyes, and you’ve been doing this for a number of years, from Trump through Biden right now. What do you demand of the Biden administration? And how much power does Biden have right now in the face of these Republican governors, everyone from Abbott in Texas to DeSantis in Florida?

ANDREA REYES: Yeah, so, I think Geraldo and I actually spoke about this in the article. We can look at any president, we can look at any administration, and it’s never going to be enough. Whatever a president does when it comes to the immigration world is never going to be enough, because all they’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. You know, a president can’t fix the problem, the broken, delayed, strict immigration system that we have. They can’t fix it. In fact, our Constitution doesn’t allow for it. Only Congress has the power to create the laws to fix these problems. And, you know, for decades, Congress has refused to act on sensible, common — you know, positive, sensible immigration reform.

And we look at — look at the DREAM Act, for example. The DREAM Act, the first version, was created in 2001. That’s 22 years ago. That’s a whole college student that — you know, in terms of age, that we have not been able to come together. We’ve presented, I think, 11 or 12 versions of that DREAMers Act bill, and Congress has not been able to come together. I think the last time that we had a real chance at passing it was in 2010. But since then, you know, we’ve presented new bills, and nothing’s happened. This is the most likable, the most acceptable, the most deserving immigrant population, right? The DREAMers. And we can’t get Congress to act on behalf of DREAMers.

So, at the end of the day, people need to understand that, yes, a president — when you go to vote for presidential elections, it matters, absolutely. All elections matter. But that’s the thing. People think that only presidential elections are going to fix their problems, when, really, especially for immigrant populations — right? — the Congress, the Senate, our senators and our elected representatives are the ones that have the power to build and create the laws that we need to protect us.

And so, I think a big part of this movement that’s going to come forward as a result of SB 1718 is all these young Latinos — I’m hoping, anyways, the same thing that happened after Arizona in 2010, you know, we’re going to have all these young, vibrant Latino nonprofit organizations, grassroots movers, you know, kind of teaching and educating the population on not just like what our political system looks like, but, number one, you have to leave your baggage behind from your country. Whatever happened in your country is in your country, and it has a different constitutional order. Here in the United States, we have separate concepts that really help us — separation of powers, right? What saved us during the Trump administration were the federal courts. You know, federalism, this idea of like what is plenary power for the federal government, what is state power.

So, if we can educate the immigrant population, if we can get voters registered, you know, if we can get people to register for voting, I think in the state of Florida, if I’m not — I might misquote it, but I think there’s like 40% of current permanent legal residents are eligible to vote, and they haven’t registered to vote, because, A, they don’t — the English — right? — that is always an issue, but also they don’t trust the system, and they don’t believe in our way of government because sometimes they’re stuck on how their government operated in their home country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Professor Cadava back into the conversation. We only have about a minute, but you speak to José Rodríguez, a priest in Florida, who says many conservative Latino voters are prioritizing anti-abortion laws over immigration. And if you can talk about that and whether you think that will change as this becomes more and more extreme?

GERALDO CADAVA: Yeah. Well, one of the things I was interested in exploring is how this law might be seen by religious — religiously motivated Latinos. And I was thinking that the bill would kind of pull them in different directions, because, on the one hand, they’ve long supported immigrant rights and the idea that immigrants are neighbors and members of our community, at the same time that they are increasingly kind of supporting anti-abortion bills and Ron DeSantis’s other pretty radically conservative legislation.

So, when I spoke with José Rodríguez, I wanted to understand how the Latinos he works with see this bill. And he was saying that he thinks that conservative Latinos are now prioritizing anti-abortion because they’ve kind of gone all in on the conservative movement. But he thinks that it could have — you know, it could have a lot of blowback or a lot of negative consequences for them, as well, once they realize all of the negative effects of the immigration bill, as well. So he thinks that right now conservative Latinos are just elevating the anti-abortion issue over the immigration issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, but, of course, we’ll continue to cover this issue. Professor Geraldo Cadava, we thank you for being with us, professor of history and Latino studies at Northwestern University in Chicago. We’ll link to your piece in The New Yorker magazine, “Florida’s Right Turn on Immigration.” And thank you to Andrea Reyes, an immigration attorney, speaking to us from Jacksonville, Florida.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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